Strategy and Marketing during COVID-19 First Wave and Local Resurgence

By The SHSMD Team posted 10-13-2020 05:33 PM


This blog post draws from an interview with Stacey Brandt, executive vice president, chief strategy and marketing officer at Tampa General Hospital.

Before the Pandemic

When COVID-19 started, Tampa General put a pause on its originally planned messaging to focus on the immediate community needs for accurate and timely information. Each year, the hospital uses a stop/start/continue/modify/accelerate framework to adapt the strategic plan to changes and they used this same discipline to determine the next steps during the pandemic.

First Phase: Successful Pivot

Brandt and her team developed processes around communications across audiences and stakeholders and embedded the communications team in the command center. This ensured that the communicators had access to the latest information and that they knew which audiences needed particular information. They centralized all internal communications and media statements through the Office of the President to ensure accuracy and continuity.

For marketing and communications success, Brandt noted, “You’ve got to have a clear direction, focused team and detailed process in place, with frequent communication among the team.” From a planning perspective, she said, “It’s important to keep an eye on the current crisis and be responsive but not lose focus on the other important strategies. While you have a team hyper-focused on the operations of the issue at hand, you also need a team who is focused on continuing to plan and focus on identifying and executing on new strategic initiatives.”

Paying attention to the human side is equally important. Team members need to understand why they’re being asked to do things, to be kept informed and to have an opportunity for input. “It’s the nature of strategy, marketing and communications to be a high-functioning team in a fast-paced environment – but taking the time to slow down and check in with your team is vital.” Brandt added that it’s vital to recognize and reward team members for all their extra efforts under tremendously stressful conditions.

Reopening and then Resurgence

When Tampa General reopened elective procedures after the initial shutdown, Brandt’s team began a campaign to educate the community about the importance of seeking emergency care when appropriate and about the precautions that they were taking to ensure that it was safe to return for elective care. This relied on multichannel communications, including a social media campaign featuring patients who sought care during the first wave, so they could tell their own story in their own words.

The state of Florida began to reopen in May but soon experienced flare-ups in certain geographic hot spots. However, because Tampa General Hospital already had enough ICU beds ready, they did not have to go through a second round of cancelling elective surgeries. “We certainly monitored the situation closely and were ready to make any necessary changes to accommodate a greater surge, but we didn’t have to make that change,” Brandt said.

Communication remained vital, Brandt noted. “We have been continuing to provide updates and education both internally and externally as the situation changes. [We are] very active in working with our local media to provide the latest information in a timely manner.”

Careful Monitoring While Resuming Regular Activities

Brandt and her team are very carefully monitoring the situation and are prepared to pivot their marketing and communication strategies yet again in the case of a resurgence.

While they plan to transition back to their original marketing plan and messages, Brandt notes that this is a very delicate situation and that they have to be very thoughtful and sensitive with the timing and tone. To succeed, their messaging “has to take into account everything that has happened and the fact that consumers are not where they were, mentally or physically, before the pandemic.”

From the planning perspective, they updated their strategic plan with new or modified goals. They’re resuming standard planning activities, including:

  • An annual service line planning retreat with service line executives and medical directors to identify additional strategies and tactics to add to the service line strategic plans.
  • An annual competitor exercise to examine the strategies they should consider implementing to remain competitive in the market.
  • Active environmental scanning.
  • A quarterly competitor analysis.
  • An annual marketing and communications summit to hear directly from the CEO about the vision and new goals of the organization. 

Brandt also plans to have quarterly or semi-annual mini marketing and communication summits to share ideas and new tactics and to discuss strategies. She adds, “It’s a way to be agile and be responsive to any changing needs of the institution, while also monitoring the effectiveness of the current strategies.”

For more on how hospitals and health systems are adapting to the new environment, register for on demand access to the Navigating a New Reality conference at a discounted rate of $49. SHSMD and the AHA would like to thank the speakers and sponsors who made the conference possible.

In addition, be sure to sign up for the all-new SHSMD Connections Bytes, to be held October 27-28 and available on demand afterward. This dynamic online event will include pre-conference workshops on scenario planning and concurrent sessions that will feature using digital marketing to respond to the unplanned, winning the modern health care consumer, and health care marketing in the “real time” age.